As Ken Burns' fascinating documentary on World War II recently reminded us, nothing teaches like early failures in a long war. So, as this global struggle against radical extremism unfolds, it's important to recognize progress where it occurs.
In my 2004 book, "The Pentagon's New Map," I argued that our military would inevitably split into a Leviathan-like combat force and a "system administrator" force optimized for the everything else: postwar stabilization and reconstruction, nation-building, crisis response and counter-insurgency.
The sysadmin's capabilities emerge today in response to America's lengthy postwar stints in Afghanistan and Iraq. A good example would be the new Army-Marine counter-insurgency manual that argues for less "kinetics" ( i.e., blowing stuff up) and more effort in economic development and political capacity building. A long slog? You bet. But that's how our military finally overcomes the Vietnam syndrome.
The sysadmin function is also seen in the creation of Africa Command. AFRICOM is modeled on Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which was stood up after 9/11 to capture terrorists fleeing the Middle East but subsequently morphed into an innovative effort at blending defense, diplomacy and development programs - the "3D" approach.
Last week Africa Command presented its two new deputy commanders: a uniformed flag officer oversees military operations but a civilian ambassador supervises civil-military aid programs. Such integration of a State Department official into a combatant command is unprecedented, but it should - and will - be replicated in other regional commands over time.
Eventually, all these sysadmin activities will require a bureaucratic center of gravity. In my 2005 book, "Blueprint for Action," I proposed a new agency to complement our departments of "war" (Defense) and "peace" (State). I wasn't the first and won't be the last to issue that call. Indeed, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani proposes creating such an independent agency - serious political progress in its own right.
I dubbed my version the Department of Everything Else because I wasn't certain what all needed to belong there. I just knew it would logically be more civilian than military and drawn from far more than just the Pentagon.
Every year I address the student body at National Defense University's Industrial College of the Armed Forces, briefing the strategic concepts from my books. Well, this year ICAF's students are engaging in a senior leadership capstone exercise in which they'll brainstorm how to go about creating a new Department of Global Development that aims to win both the prewar and postwar in this long war against radical extremism.
That's a neat training exercise for future military leaders, but here's the kicker: Almost half of ICAF's students this year are nonmilitary civilians drawn heavily from State and the Agency for International Development - the other two Ds. If five years ago I fielded questions exclusively from military officers, this year all my queries came from State and AID civilians - most being women!
Say goodbye to your dad's military; say hello to the department for everybody else.
None of this will happen overnight. AFRICOM will take a decade or more to settle in and find its bureaucratic personality, and my Department of Everything Else will likely require several more nasty scandals and outright strategic failures before ultimately emerging. But, when it does, I guarantee you that it will be put in charge of booming private security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp, two firms currently in the news regarding an absence of government oversight.
That gets me to my last sign of progress: the emergence of industry players associated with the sysadmin's rising profile. Last year Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense corporation, acquired Pacific Architects & Engineers, a longtime contractor to the U.S. State Department. PA&E is essentially State's version of Kellogg Brown & Root, the Pentagon's premier contractor for overseas base construction and support services.
Lockheed's purchase was a shot across the bow of the entire defense industry, signaling its historic decision to focus more on serving the U.S. military's ballooning postwar portfolio. Within a generation, I predict Lockheed will evolve from being primarily a U.S. defense firm to operating as a global security contractor - less Leviathan and far more sysadmin.
State-on-state war as we knew it in the 20th century is rapidly disappearing. Something far more complex replaces it. The Iraq war changed nothing, but the Iraq postwar serves as tipping point for a permanent restructuring of America's military-industrial complex.